cover image Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

Tony Johnston. Harcourt Children's Books, $14 (56pp) ISBN 978-0-15-222863-7

Readers take a ringside seat during the preparation for and observance of Mexico's three-day celebration of the dead in this dazzling little volume. Winter's (Josefina) dust jacket (resembling a Mexican paper cutout) integrates a silhouetted skull and marigold motif against a festive backdrop of purple, fuschia and turquoise--a visual theme echoed in the endpapers and beyond. Inside its covers, in text that copiously interlaces Spanish words and phrases, Johnston (The Magic Maguey; The Wagon) tracks one family in the days preceding the annual fiesta--the mixing, the baking, the fruit and flower picking--and the children can scarcely contain their excitement, or their hunger ("" ` Ni una miga?' they ask. `No,' mama says. `Not one crumb.' ""). When the big night finally arrives, the whole village forms a processional, carrying food for the feast and bearing marigold bouquets (""dropping a path of petals for the spirits to find their way""). The empanadas, tamales and pan de muertos (bread of the dead) are laid out on the graves of abuelos (grandparents) and ancestors, and the celebration begins. Winter frames gem-like images of these scenes within thick black borders accented with bright images drawn from the text--red chiles, orange marigold petals, pink and green decorated calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls). Together Johnston and Winter bring this mystical day of the dead vividly to life, and may even provide an uplifting way for children to think about their own dearly departed. All ages. (Sept.)